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Movie of the Day – Fist of Legend

Posted on the 02 August 2013 by Plotdevice39 @PlotDevices

I haven’t done a kung fu flick article in some time now and find that fact as a good excuse to write one today.  Now I have a rather expansive list of kung fu films I have seen that I can call upon.  The problem is which one do you write about.  I could have gone with something from Shaw Bros. era or picked up some of the main stream martial arts films.  I decided on one that has a rather wide reaching story and also a cultural importance.  When I say cultural importance, I am more or less referring to the influence that the movie has on future films that look to emulate the film or feed off of it.  Fist of Legend is probably one of the best kung fu films around and also the movie that really launched Jet Li’s career and got fight choreographer Yuen Woo-Ping to be recognized as one of the premier fight choreographers.  Fast action, intense fight scenes, and rather rich back story set against the second Sino-Japanese War.

Movie of the Day – Fist of Legend

Jet Li stars in this historical Hong Kong action film, as Chen Zhen, a Chinese student in Japan in the 1920s. When his master is killed during the Japanese occupation of China, he returns to avenge his teacher’s death. Back in China, he finds himself caught in the escalating racial tensions between the Chinese and the Japanese.  ~ Jonathan E. Laxamana, Rovi

The story kind of shifts between being a nationalistic pride film and a strong character driven action movie.  The heightened sense of fear and aggression plays between both Chinese and Japanese inhabitants, which ends up fueling a lot of the fight scenes in the film.  It isn’t necessarily about overcoming the opposition or even taking down the man, but rather upholding your traditions and respect for culture.  It’s about taking back that sense of pride that was removed, rather than out right opposition to the oppression of the Japanese occupation.  This tense setting is also the best way to give the fight scenes a bit more weight.  You watch the fighters all have a certain intensity to their combat, sometimes just going berserk and fighting without focus.  It kind of propels the film a bit more when you couple the fights with the state of the country.  There is a lot more at stake.

Movie of the Day – Fist of Legend

Aside from the story, the action is amazing.  One of the best showcases of the artsy style of combat that is synonymous with the works of Yuen Woo-Ping.  Fluid, natural, intense and showy combat all make up the trademark of the Jet Li films that you just sit in awe every time you watch one of his films.  Couple his natural skills with the dance like choreography of Ping and that is a recipe for incredible action scenes.  The fights scenes all have a certain reverence to them where each fighter respects the others combat prowess and acknowledge unique fighting styles.  Think back to Bruce Lee films where the adaptability of his Jeet Kun Do style allows for the free style fighting that will overcome traditional, rigid forms of combat.  Chen is able to adapt and mix styles to throw off the competition, while still making the fighting style all his own.  While the fights are spectacular, it’s the intensity and variance of the fights that showcase a deeper meaning to the characters.  A draw in combat reveals more about the characters than just having one beating the crap out of the other.  Nothing is learned from the combat and you don’t develop as both a fight and person.

I try to limit the amount of information that I write in these movie of the day articles.  In reality I don’t want to turn them into full fledged reviews since I want to save that for new and theatrical releases.  But Fist of Legend has a rich influence on the films that we have today, fighting films anyways.  Yuen Woo-Ping has been brought over to Hollywood to direct of the fight scenes in movies like The Matrix Trilogy and Kill Bill.  His artsy, almost dance like choreography is gorgeous to watch on screen since we are getting glimpses of non-traditional fighting styles and more showy kung fu moves.  It’s changed the way of the knock down, drag out fights we see on film and offer up some rather interesting action sequences.  The story behind Fist of Legend even got Jet Li to do, what  is essentially, the prequel to the Fist of Legend story line with the debut of the film Fearless.  This had Li stepping into the roll of Chen’s former master and champion of Jingwu School.  Another fantastic film if you have never seen it.

Overall if you are a fight film fan, this is a must.  I can’t stress how much this film has influenced martial arts films since it’s release but also it’s a solid action film from Jet Li.  If I was put on the spot and asked to name a Jet Li movie, Fist of Legend immediately springs to mind.  Then I would say Fong Sai Yuk and then Tai Chi Master.

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